July 20, 2022
What is the Gut Microbiome?
You’ve probably heard terms like ‘good’ and ‘bad’ bacteria, ‘the gut microbiome,’ the importance of probiotics, and more. These all fall under the umbrella of the human microbiome: the ecosystem of bacteria and other microbes that live in the human body and support our normal bodily functions.
A particular area of public fascination and research interest is the gut microbiome. Studies have shown that the gut microbiome can influence health from the immediate level of digestion (think conditions like IBS) all the way to the brain. More recently, a body of evidence has been growing for the role that the gut microbiome plays in how people respond to cancer treatments.
The Origins of the Gut Microbiome in Cancer Research
In a comprehensive News Feature published yesterday in Nature, author Jeanne Erdmann outlines the story of gut microbiome research and cancer immunotherapy. The first conclusive studies in this field were published last year in Science, involving fecal microbial transfer (FMT) from patients who responded well to cancer immunotherapy into patients with immunotherapy resistance.
Out of 26 patients who had previously failed to respond to immunotherapy, roughly 33% responded to immunotherapy treatment after FMT. While this was not as dramatic of a response as would be the hope for something like a pharmacological agent, the result signaled to researchers that they were on the right track with this line of questioning.
Today, there are more than 30 studies across academic institutions and pharmaceutical companies into the benefits of FMT on cancer treatment response. Some have linked specific bacteria to improved outcomes, but the majority consensus thus far is that a diverse gut microbiome is the strongest predictor of any conferred health benefits.
Future Research Directions
It has yet to be determined what makes a ‘good’ FMT donor, as well as which bacteria or microbes exactly are responsible for the beneficial effects. This is where the groundbreaking work in microbiome genomics and bioinformatics, as well as other sequencing strategies of resistant versus susceptible cancers, will start to come in to answer these questions.
Long-term, when the mechanisms underlying these processes are clearer, FMT will likely be replaced by mass-produced and bioprocessed combinations of the required microbes, rather than transfers from human donors. In the meantime, researchers across disciplines will be watching and working on the exciting field of microbiome research for years to come.
Outsourcing Bioinformatics Analysis
The kinds of questions being asked in the area of gut microbiome and cancer immunotherapy interactions can be investigated using modern genomic, transcriptomic, and bioinformatic tools. Generation, storage, and analysis of these data is a challenging computational task. Outsourcing these tasks to bioinformatics experts like our team at Bridge Informatics helps improve the reproducibility of results and solve common challenges. Book a free discovery call today to discuss your project needs.
Jane Cook, Journalist & Content Writer, Bridge Informatics
Jane is a Content Writer at Bridge Informatics, a professional services firm that helps biotech customers implement advanced techniques in the management and analysis of genomic data. Bridge Informatics focuses on data mining, machine learning, and various bioinformatic techniques to discover biomarkers and companion diagnostics. If you’re interested in reaching out, please email [email protected] or [email protected].